New York City born and bred, street photographer Jason Roman goes out daily in pursuit of the perfect shot, capturing street scenes and fleeting moments in a uniquely raw and real manner. From the wonders of cell phone snapshots to drawing inspiration from revolutionary street photographers, Jason takes us along on a voyage of endless wonder.
What sparked your interest in photography?
I studied acting for a long time, and I was used to being in front of the camera for so long, but photography has always been something that was on my mind. The first camera I ever bought was for video, and I wanted to buy it so that I could shoot my own web series or short films or whatever else. I had always had a great respect for street photography, but I always wanted to be in front of the camera – in my quest of learning videography, there was a moment where I realized that hey, this camera is really good at taking photos, so why don’t I go outside and try some street shots? Immediately, I found myself addicted to it, and I started looking around in my life and seeing all these little hints, that this is what I should be doing. I had all these books on my shelf from famous street photographers like Bruce Gilden, Bruce Davidson, and Saul Leiter. Growing up in New York City, I feel like it can rob you of a lot of possibilities of what you could do in life – while I liked a lot of things, I never knew that I could actually do them, so I was kind of a late bloomer to everything.
What was the first camera you ever owned?
The first camera I ever owned was a cell phone – that’s what led me to buy an Android phone, because they always had to compete with Apple so much that the way they ultimately did that was to offer better specs on things like the camera. I guess I took photography seriously enough that I really wanted a good cell phone camera, so whenever I traveled I’d catch myself standing around for hours, trying to capture shot with my cell phone. My first real – and expensive – camera, was a Canon 7D.
What camera do you enjoy shooting with the most today?
Right now I’m completely obsessed with Fujifilm products – they have the most brilliant customer service, and their cameras are so sexy and inspiring. If I still had any of my other equipment, which was really big and bulky, I wouldn’t shoot every day, the way that I do now. I wake up in the morning, look at my camera, and I want to touch it – I want to go outside and shoot with it, and I feel like that’s so important. The equipment you use, it doesn’t always have to be the fanciest, but it should inspire you.
Name a photographer who’s work you admire and why?
I probably love Bruce Davidson more than most others, because I’ve had his books for so long, before I had even decided to take up photography seriously. He did a series that was in my first book of his work, called “Subway” , that he shot in 1985. He rode the New York City subway, and some of the shots he captured are just so iconic – the cover photo features a black man in a gold chain wearing a Kangol hat, and it was so New York. I almost feel envious of that, because times are so different now that we don’t really get to see the world in that light anymore. Part of the reason I go out and photograph – and I notice I shoot a lot of elderly people who are really eccentric, who seem to have that bold New York aesthetic that has been forgotten. And if people are still doing that today, it’s almost a bit tacky, it’s just not the same. That’s why to me, Bruce Davidson is iconic New York street photography.
Where do you look to for inspiration?
Mostly old photographers. I was going through a phase where I was looking at Instagram a lot, but I feel like that’s the worst thing you can do – nowadays there’s just too much, especially in photography. You get caught up in other people’s styles, and that’s the death of your own style. I think part of the reason the photographers that I look back to were so great, is because they weren’t overstimulated – Bruce Davidson, for instance, just shot what he shot. He wasn’t looking at Instagram every day, he wasn’t jumping online to explore the web. He only liked what he liked and that’s what he saw. Nowadays, it’s like, oh, I shoot fashion, or I shoot editorial, or street, because we see it so much – everyone you admire around you in life is good at that one thing. I try to look at like, three photographers, and that’s it – and they all do the work I like.
What’s your specialty or style of photography?
I feel like my specialty with photography is finding characters. When I walk around outside I tend to zone out and watch people walk, watch their body language. I have a knack for finding people who smoke cigarettes in a really cool way. Two things that people have told me about my work that stood out for me, were a comment that the photos I shoot look like a real New Yorker took them, and another comment that they look at my photos and can see what I think is cool. That really told me a lot about the way I shoot.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a photographer?
If I wasn’t taking photos every day, I’d probably be at home playing video games, or something silly like that. Seriously, I am the best at wasting time. It’s rare that I find something that makes me get out of the house, because I have a part of my life through which I get all the social interaction that I need in, and on my days off I can just melt away, and not exist. If it was in terms of making money, I’d probably be pursuing acting – at some point in my life I’d like to get back into that, but other than that, I think photography has just really stuck with me and is such a strong passion for me. I can’t imagine if I wasn’t shooting right now.
My passion is street photography, but I also work as a lighting assistant so I do a lot of studio work – a lot of editorial work for magazines, e-commerce shoots and the like. It’s not necessarily my passion, but learning that level of photography, and being on set, learning about studio photography, and gaining that knowledge is invaluable.
What is your ultimate professional dream?
My ultimate professional dream with photography would be to honestly just get lost – travel and photograph the way people live. That sounds super-cliche, but I feel like there aren’t a lot of documentary photographers out there these days. That style of photography has turned largely into lifestyle photography, which is fine – it’s not like I like to only take sad photos, like shot of homeless people or others who are down and out, but something about experiencing cultures that you’ve never seen before, and portraying that in a new light is something that is very appealing to me. That, and maybe galleries – it would be great to get my work out to galleries.
Do you have a motto or mantra that you live by?
I have a hashtag of sorts, that I use a lot, #ERRDAY – because I literally shoot every single day. I try to go out and shoot every day, even if it’s just for one hour. I’ll get lost for way more than that, but at a minimum I try to shoot daily. As far as a mantra, there is something that one of my acting teachers had said to me, and I have it tattooed on my arm: “Destroy with elegance”. She would always say that when I was acting, or when I went about doing anything that I was doing on stage – even if it was a villain’s role, there was something elegant about it. So now, when I shoot or whatever mood I’m feeling, I feel like that can be portrayed in your work. If I’m sick, if I’m tired, if I’m hungover – that’s going to show up in my work, and I don’t want to deprive myself of that moment, because maybe one of my best photos will happen when I have the flu.
What’s one tip you’d give someone who’s just getting their feet wet in photography?
One tip I’d give is to try not to look at everybody else’s work. Sometimes, even shut yourself out, and develop an ego – I think that in any creative aspect in life, you have to be confident enough in yourself that people’s critique of your work might annoy you. Once you get to that point, that’s a good place to be, because you’ve hit your stride – in a way, be offended that someone doesn’t like your work.
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